Screening for behavioral health conditions in primary care settings: a systematic review of the literature.

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Journal of general internal medicine : official journal of the Society for Research and Education in Primary Care Internal Medicine


BACKGROUND: Mounting evidence indicates that early recognition and treatment of behavioral health disorders can prevent complications, improve quality of life, and help reduce health care costs. The aim of this systematic literature review was to identify and evaluate publicly available, psychometrically tested tools that primary care physicians (PCPs) can use to screen adult patients for common mental and substance use disorders such as depression, anxiety, and alcohol use disorders.

METHODS: We followed the Institute of Medicine (IOM) systematic review guidelines and searched PubMed, PsycINFO, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and Health and Psychosocial Instruments databases to identify literature addressing tools for screening of behavioral health conditions. We gathered information on each tool's psychometrics, applicability in primary care, and characteristics such as number of items and mode of administration. We included tools focused on adults and the most common behavioral health conditions; we excluded tools designed for children, youth, or older adults; holistic health scales; and tools screening for serious but less frequently encountered disorders, such as bipolar disorder.

RESULTS: We identified 24 screening tools that met the inclusion criteria. Fifteen tools were subscales stemming from multiple-disorder assessments or tools that assessed more than one mental disorder or more than one substance use disorder in a single instrument. Nine were ultra-short, single-disorder tools. The tools varied in psychometrics and the extent to which they had been administered and studied in primary care settings.

DISCUSSION: Tools stemming from the Patient Health Questionnaire had the most testing and application in primary care settings. However, numerous other tools could meet the needs of primary care practices. This review provides information that PCPs can use to select appropriate tools to incorporate into a screening protocol.



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